When we started inviting NHS organisations to declare their support for Speak out Safely, I naively thought it would be fairly easy. Send an email to all the CEOs and they’ll review their whistleblowing policies, making a public commitment to support and protect their staff if they raise concerns about patient care or safety.
To me, it seems logical for employers to embrace this opportunity.
But, at time of writing, only 26 organisations have officially signed up. Although the campaign is gathering momentum and none of the organisations we have approached have explicitly refused, it seems that many trusts are still wary of tackling this important issue.
We are simply asking organisations to make a public commitment to protect those who raise concerns and to act on these concerns, and many people not involved in the NHS might be surprised to hear this commitment has not already been made. As an outsider looking in, I have little wonder that NHS staff do not always feel they will be safe to raise concerns within their organisations, or that some feel the need to become whistleblowers by raising them externally.
Nurses at Mid Staffs were criticised for not speaking out when patient safety was clearly being compromised, but those who did were not always taken seriously. In perhaps the worst case, Helene Donnelly was left fearing for her job and personal safety, while her concerns went unaddressed and the colleagues who were the subject of concerns were protected.
I have no doubt that there are health professionals out there who want to raise concerns but have not yet felt able to. If there is no guarantee that they are safe to do so, or that their concerns will even be acted on, I can understand why they might be reluctant.
But if you knew that management have a legal obligation to do something, would you be more likely to say something?
This week is Speak out Safely week at Nursing Times. We pledge to do everything we can to make it safe for all health professionals to raise concerns over patient care if they need to.
Are you behind us?
Is your employer signed up? If not, you can download a letter here to send to your CEO encouraging them to do so.